When things start piling up, you turn to the people you trust and can rely on; one such person in my life and in my SLP graduate program is Tanya Sykes-Clark. She is a first year non-traditional SLP Grad Student here at the University of West Georgia with me. She is also a wife and mother to four children who range in age from 9 to 19. When it comes to amazing, I defer to her. I asked for her story and perspective since there are many non-traditional students considering changing careers to Speech-Language Pathology. Allow her to explain…
Non-Traditional Student and the Decision Making Process:
In 1997 I moved to Georgia and decided to forgo my attempts to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing. I chose to be a stay at home mom with two children at the time. My husband was all for it, so I began my journey from stay at home mom to SLP student. In 1999 I enrolled in a technical school to get my certification as a Medical Assistant. That was an epic fail when I realized the sight of blood made me sick. In 2005, I elected to get my certification as a real estate agent and was very successful until the 2008 real estate bubble took place. Once again was thrust into considering a career change. The real estate market not only took a dive, but destroyed any financial security I had. Back at home again, but this time I was charged with caring for four children.
During this time my youngest son began speech therapy. His speech went from unintelligible to intelligible; the amazing change in his confidence and daily life intrigued me. I started reflecting on my childhood when I pretended to teach my cousins during summer break, and recalled people in church would comment on my speaking and leadership abilities. I called a number of schools, but was only able to get in touch with one program director and it just happened to be at the University of West Georgia. So in 2009, I went from being an intrigued onlooker to taking the first steps as undergraduate student in Speech-Language Pathology.
How would I do this? All the fear came creeping in. My family would have to live off of one income and figure out a schedule that would allow for me to be a full-time student and full time mother. With much thought, organization, and planning my husband and I worked out the details and thus began my journey.
Here I am 35 years old and going back to school with people much younger than me. You better believe I was not only nervous, but scared. After much struggle and support, I was able to complete my bachelor’s degree in 2012, the highlight of my journey. It was definitely not easy, but looking at my children and realizing the help that I would be able to offer to others definitely pushed me. However, my journey did not end here.
Applying and Starting SLP Graduate School: Married with Kids
I now had to apply to SLP Graduate Schools, and consider the possibility of leaving the state and my family; SLP graduate programs are quite competitive. I remember thinking taking the GRE was beyond my capabilities. I had nightmares about that test, and wanted to run for cover every time I thought about it. Yet, I applied for grad school and was accepted to the program at the University of West Georgia, which is in-state and right around the corner from my home.
The demand of the program and all of my responsibilities at home were like a neon light on a motel that continued to flash, but the sign read CAN YOU DO THIS! I started whipping everyone and everything into shape at home. My daughter, who is my biggest helper, was off at college and the men of the house (my husband and three boys) would have to pick up the slack. I am a perfectionist, and being a mom and wife is something I love and take great pride in, but now I had to pursue my dream. Organizing my calendar and even doing homework at the football field is now a part of my routine.
Not only was I willing to make this work for my family, I decided that in order to provide an excellent model of dedication for my children, I would have to keep moving.
I believe that being organized is the only way I can stay on top of things and still be successful in school. This does not mean that writing everything down makes life easy, but it does help me to remember the things I need to do for everyone in my household, including myself. I tried iPad apps, but I am an old fashioned girl. Writing things down just helps me to pay attention to what is next on my agenda. I also add alarms to my cell phone to remind me of upcoming events and even to take medicine on time. I once left my phone at school and a friend of mine picked it up; she had to take the battery out to disable all the alarms. Sounds crazy, but when you are the manager for 5 people plus yourself, staying on task would be impossible without these organizational tools.
Family and SLP Graduate School Conflicts:
Schedule conflicts are one of my biggest nightmares. There have been a number of school events for my children which I was unable to attend due to clinical or academic conflicts. However, I make sure to keep in touch with my children’s teachers by email, especially when I have to miss a parent/teacher conference. I have also signed up for a parents connect grading system for each of my children’s schools. This allows me to see their grades that the teachers input daily. My husband and I work around both our schedules and somehow we are making it work. My university program does not have classes on Friday, so I generally use that day to work. I attend football games on Friday night and Saturday for two of my sons, so I have to make sure I do any work for school Friday morning in order to attend these events with my undivided attention. I commute 45 minutes to and from school; so I use my down time to work on research papers, projects, and therapy sessions for my clients.
Frustrations and Encouragement for non-traditional students:
I cannot give you a detailed schedule that will work for everyone, but it’s important to use your time wisely and don’t let little things frustrate you. I have learned these last few months that I cannot do it all, but to do what I can to keep moving forward with school and home life. There are days I wake up feeling like Super Woman with an S on my chest, and then there are days I feel like Super Woman who’s been zapped by Kryptonite. The life of an SLP Grad Student is not easy, and adding a family to the mix makes it even more complicated. More than once I’ve been asked how I”m able to attend graduate school, manage my schedule, my children’s schedules, be a wife, and still manage to be sane. I cannot do it alone. I require help from everyone in order to keep the house running at full steam. I also have a support system of other colleagues at school who help me with study tips and information. Organization and a reliable support system will be the key to sanity.
Being a successful, non-traditional SLP graduate student, having a family, commuting, and succeeding in class and clinic is not impossible.
I hope Tanya’s story inspires and keeps us all motivated as we work our way through graduate school for Speech-Language Pathology.
UPDATE: Since this originally posted, Tanya has started her own blog so check it out! http://tsyspeaks.wordpress.com/